An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Early dental care is vital

  • Published
  • By The
  • 375th Dental Squadron
A top priority for parents should be helping their children develop good oral health habits. You can help your child enjoy a lifetime of healthy smiles.

A child's dental care begins before birth

A baby's teeth begin to form between the third-and sixth-months of the mother's pregnancy. Good health habits of the mother are important for development of the unborn child. Unless a physician recommends otherwise, pregnant women should remember to consume dairy products, which are the best sources for calcium, the main building block for bones and teeth.

Bringing up the baby

You can't see them, but at birth your baby already has 20 primary (baby) teeth, some of which are almost completely formed in the jaw. Wiping your baby's gums with a clean damp cloth after feeding will remove the bacteria-containing plaque and that can harm erupting teeth. Usually, the first four teeth begin to appear when the baby is between age six months and one year.

Babies and bottles

The primary teeth are very important for chewing, speaking and appearance. They also help hold space in the jaws for the permanent teeth. One serious (and costly) form of tooth decay among young children is early childhood decay (sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay). This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant's teeth to liquids that contain sugar, such as milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks. It is often related to letting the baby fall asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth.

The growing years

Begin brushing your child's teeth with a little water as soon as the first tooth appears. Parents need to supervise tooth brushing to make sure children use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and do not swallow the toothpaste. Parents should be using floss or an interdental cleaner on their child's teeth as soon as any two teeth touch. Cleaning between the teeth is important because it removes plaque where a toothbrush can't reach. Brush and floss your child's teeth after each meal unless your dentist recommends otherwise. Most children will be able to brush on their own by age six or seven and floss on their own by age eight or nine.